My mother recited the same poem every night when she gave me a bath–the ballad Oscar Wide wrote while imprisoned for sodomy, a poem in which he envies a fellow inmate, a murderer sentenced to hang, for having the passion to commit a real crime. Part of the long narrative of “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” goes like this:
Yet each man kills the thing he loves
By each let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword!
Some kill their love when they are young,
And some when they are old;
Some strangle with the hands of Lust,
Some with the hands of Gold:
The kindest use a knife, because
The dead so soon grow cold.
–John Skoyles is a poet, memoirist, and the poetry editor at Ploughshares. His new new book, A Moveable Famine, is just out with The Permanent Press.